Saturday, June 11, 2011

Abolishing Kickoffs

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, Greg Schiano proposed eliminating kickoffs this week as a way to improve safety in the game. Seth has a nice summary of the concept here. My first reaction was that this was a ridiculous idea. However, the more I've read about it, the more it makes sense. From what I've gathered reading in various places, kickoffs account for roughly 6% of a team's total plays on average. However, since 1977, injuries on kickoffs have accounted for about 14% of the "catastrophic" injuries injuries that have occurred (many of those leading to paralysis). I wasn't able to find anything showing a year-by-year analysis, but it would make logical sense to me if that trend has actually been on an upward line. The players covering kicks today are bigger, faster, and stronger than they were in 1977 (unless they're coached by Jon Fabris, but that's another story), so by the laws of physics would be hitting harder. At least on a punt, the tacklers have blockers running side by side with them down the field who can slow the tackler's momentum before they make a hit. The one statistic I really tried to find, but couldn't, is what percentage of "catastrophic" injuries occurred on punts. I wish I could find that in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison - let me know if anyone can find that stat. But on the surface, this change makes a lot of sense for safety.

Where I have a problem with the change is that regardless of the distance selected for the 4th down play (Schiano suggests 4th & 15), it provides a HUGE advantage to the kicking team in one area: automatic first down penalties. On a kickoff, there is absolutely nothing the receiving team can do that would result in the kicking team automatically keeping the ball. The kicking team either has to recover an onsides kick or create & recover a fumble to keep the ball. However, if you go to this model using punts, where it is treated like a 4th down, there are multiple scenarios where the offense would get to keep the ball without really having done anything.

  1. Receiving team tries to block the punt, and ends up roughing the kicker (which sometimes is a TERRIBLE call by the refs, due to the acting job by the punters)
  2. Kicking team decides not to punt, but to go for it. Defender gets too aggressive and roughs the QB
  3. Kicking team decides to go for it, and one of the guys in the secondary gets called for defensive holding
  4. Kicking team decides to go for it, and a defensive facemask occurs
In all of these cases, the flag would result in an automatic first down for the "kicking" team, but it's not any ordinary first down. Put another way, in this scenario, the result of the penalty really isn't an automatic first down, the result of the penalty is a successful onsides for the other team, a result not even possible from a penalty on a kickoff. There is a big difference between those two - and it seems overly punitive to the receiving team and overly generous to the kicking team in that scenario. Yet if you do away with the "automatic" first down, you run the risk of giving the receiving team the greenlight to come after the punter or QB with all of hell's fury.

My suggestion, you ask? Oh, you didn't ask........well, I'll tell you anyway. If the model of using a punt instead of kickoffs is adopted, then penalties on the receiving team in "kickoff" situations that on normal downs would result in an automatic first down, would result in a 4th and short scenario (either 4th and 1, or 4th and 2). This way, the defense still receives a significant punishment, and the offense receives a significant reward. But the offense will still have to earn the first down on the subsequent down if they still elect to go for it. If the defense commits another penalty on the subsequent down, then sorry guys, first down for the offense. I can't forgive 2 consecutive penalties.

What are your thoughts? Do you like my suggestion? Do you think Schiano's entire idea is for sissies? Do you have any other ideas to improve safety for the players on kickoffs?



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